For Fox News viewers, morality is black and white

Paul HiebertData Journalist
December 02, 2016, 2:44 PM GMT+0

New data shows that 60% of viewers who trust Fox News believe people are either for the truth or against it

Over the recent election campaign, the news media's ability to convey unvarnished truth became highly suspect. People who supported Bernie Sanders, for example, blamed mainstream networks for downplaying their candidate, thus hindering his chances of winning the Democratic primary. On Twitter, President-elect Donald Trump routinely criticizes CNN and the New York Times for being biased. After the election, many experts have pointed to Google and Facebook for helping circulate fake news stories — many that promoted outright falsehoods about Hillary Clinton.

New data from YouGov Profiles shows that viewers of the different networks hold very different notions of the truth. In other words, people who trust different news sources have different perspectives of reality that extend beyond the distinction between Democrat and Republican.

When asked if they believe there are only two kinds of people in this world — "those for the truth and those against the truth" — 60% of viewers who trust Fox News to cover the day's events said they did. Agreement with this more black-and-white approach drops 10 points when looking at viewers who trust ABC News (50%), and even more when examining viewers of CBS (47%) and NBC (46%). Meanwhile, only 39% of viewers who trust the liberal-leaning MSNBC believe that, in general terms, people either favor the truth or rally against it.

A similar pattern appears when analyzing readers who like various political pundits.

When asked if people are either for the truth or against it, 63% of conservative polemicist Ann Coulter's adherents agreed, as did 61% of readers who like the late Andrew Breitbart, founder of the far-right Breitbart News Network. On the other hand, only 12% of people who like the data-driven Nate Silver agreed with the statement. Fans of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof came in at a mere 9%.

Based on the data, the hard-to-ignore conclusion is that consumers of conservative news — whether that involves watching certain TV networks or following particular columnists — have a different notion of truth. Instead of complexity and shades of grey, they see the world in the starker outlines of black and white.